Ancient 486 PC takes over Hubble telescope

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Intel should be proud of its 1980s chip designers

We wouldn't even consider using it for writing this story, but a computer using Intel's 1989-vintage 80486 CPU is apparently good enough for powering one of the most sophisticated pieces of hardware ever built.

Admittedly, it's part of Plan B after a primary computer failed, but the fact that the 486 is handling things aboard the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is impressive stuff.

Confidence in Intel

The 18-year-old PC has had to take over communications between Earth and the HST two weeks after its more sophisticated overseer packed in mysteriously.

Prior to the attempted boot-up this week, an HST manager explained: "It is obviously a possibility that things will not come up [but] there's very little ageing that goes on with an unpowered component in space."

Data download

Such confidence was well placed, as the 486 was able to start up successfully and confirm its rude health by copying data back and forth between the telescope and a ground station.

Around 2026, we fully expect to be reporting on an Eee PC taking over life support at Mars Base 1.

J Mark Lytle was an International Editor for TechRadar, based out of Tokyo, who now works as a Script Editor, Consultant at NHK, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation. Writer, multi-platform journalist, all-round editorial and PR consultant with many years' experience as a professional writer, their bylines include CNN, Snap Media and IDG.